Thursday, March 1, 2012

On Becoming A Whig - A Personal Note

I will confess that, for my almost entire adult life, and begging the reader’s forgiveness, I have been a staunch liberal Democrat. I sympathized with the Green Party but cursed their meddling in the 2000 election. When the Democrats fronted deeply disappointing candidates – John Kerry and Walter Mondale come to mind – the unwavering conviction, “my party is the lesser of two evils” carried my poor stupefied body to the voting booth. 

Saint Paul was knocked off his horse while on the road to Damascus, and stood up a changed man. The events that opened my mind are these. In 2007, presidential candidate Barack Obama brought hope to out-of-work Midwesterners by denouncing the evils of the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA). Then, in February of 2007, he sent an emissary named Austan Goolsbee to Canada to reassure political leaders there that his anti-NAFTA rhetoric shouldn’t be taken seriously. But still, I believed Barack Obama – the one who spoke to the needs of unemployed Americans, and not the one who sent councils to foreign heads of state. 

After his election to the presidency, Mr. Obama took no action on NAFTA. To the contrary, during some manufactured crisis involving debt ceilings, he quietly signed a new free trade agreement with South Korea. The shameless dishonesty of this president is sufficient cause for becoming disillusioned. Nonetheless, the reader may ask, “Isn’t free trade a good thing?” And the answer is this: a free trade agreement, like a peace treaty, is only a good thing if the terms are honorable. Neville Chamberlain’s Munich Pact is a well-known historical example of a dishonorable peace treaty. However, if one were to seek a prima facie example of a dishonorable free trade agreement, there are no examples that are so blatant and unambiguous. In the 17th century, Great Britain established something it called “free trade” with India, but this was achieved by first conquering the Indian people by force of arms. 

The era of economic imperialism is remembered with shame. Very few people living today would believe the propaganda that the colonization of India, Africa, and South America was motivated by a humanitarian impulse. And now, an even more shameful phenomenon is occurring: political leaders are collaborating with international corporate oligarchs to colonize their own countries. In the case of NAFTA, this means taking jobs out of the hands of American workers and sending them to Mexico. The American auto worker does not benefit from this, but the CEO and shareholders of the Big Three American auto makers enjoy larger profits as a result. The American consumer does not pay reduced prices on produce from Mexico, but the American farmer starves. 
Internal colonization in Appalachia discussed here.            Image Source.

The heads of large corporations and the financiers who make this possible contribute large sums to election campaigns, and in exchange, corrupt political leaders casually ignore what is in the interest of the American people. 

When an American is no longer able to support the Democratic Party, he or she is seemingly left with few choices. First, the individual may decide to support the Republican Party instead, only to discover that the two major parties are equally responsible for the internal colonization of the United States. Secondly, the individual may decide to become an independent voter, which is in fact not a meaningful alternative to voting for one of the major parties. Or, as nearly half of eligible voters have done, the individual may decide to stop participating in the electoral process, and give up any hope of change. 

The last option is to vote for a so-called “third party.” The Green Party and the Progressive Movement are to the left of the Democratic Party, and the TEA Party and the Libertarian movement (generally speaking) fall to the right of the Republican Party. These parties have so far failed to make much of an impact because they are by nature partisan. They are not meant to provide a voice for all Americans, but are instead meant to provide a voice for people who are guilty of a nostalgic attachment to the ideals of conservatism or liberalism. 

Given these premises, the Whig Party represents an alternative way of thinking about “third parties.” The aim of the Whigs is not to defend either a conservative or liberal ideology. Instead, the Whigs aim to renew Americans’ faith in the wisdom of the Founders of this nation. The Founders saw what the British Empire meant by “free trade,” and when they recognized that the American colonies were about to suffer the same fate as India, they declared a revolution. The Founders understood that extreme wealth in the hands of a few oligarchs has the potential to corrupt political leaders and poison election campaigns. Also, the Founders articulated a set of beliefs regarding the nature of liberty, and these beliefs were embraced by individuals who had very different economic interests from one another: the farmers and shopkeepers, the landless and the propertied, rich and poor. 

Certainly, there is much to quarrel about when deciding on the “original intentions” of the Founders, and there is a time and a place for the more academic fine-points. The more important aim is to identify principles on which Americans can agree, and champion values that Americans can rally around. This is not the same as “centrism” or “moderation.” This is a matter of passionately defending liberty in the face of an unprecedented danger. 


  1. Nice bit of writing. Thanks for your story. I became interested in the modern whigs being a somewhat disillusioned republican and can therefor easily understand being a disillusioned democrat as both parties they are both severely locked in their own perspectives.

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